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Watch: Vaccines against new variants should be ready by October, according to the team behind the Oxford University/AstraZeneca jab
A new jab to tackle the mutated Kent coronavirus variant could be ready by autumn, Oxford vaccine developers have said.
There have been 11 reports of the variant that feature the E484K mutation, mostly in South West England.
The mutation has been shown to reduce the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing people contracting the virus.
Professor Andrew Pollard from the Oxford University vaccine group confirmed that altered vaccines could be available before the end of the year.
Dr Pollard said: “I think the actual work on designing a new vaccine is very, very quick because it’s essentially just switching out the genetic sequence for the spike protein, so for the updated variants.
“Then there’s manufacturing to do and then a small-scale study.
“All of that can be completed in a very short period of time, and the autumn is really the timing for having new vaccines available for use rather than for having the clinical trials run.”
Sir Mene Pangalos, executive vice-president of biopharmaceuticals research and development at AstraZeneca, added: “Our ambition is to be ready for the next round of immunisations that may be necessary as we go into next winter. That’s what we’re aiming for.”
Dr Pollard said the E484K mutation of COVID-19 could reduce the impact of all vaccines but reassured people the jabs currently available would still reduce deaths.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “That mutation is a really interesting one because it’s in a bit of the spike protein that most of us try to make antibodies against.
“So it is highly likely that would have a big impact on the immune response and from all the vaccines.”
Dr Pollard said that hopefully COVID-19 would be like other coronaviruses that are around us all the time, which cause colds and mild infections, and that “we will have built up enough immunity to prevent the other severe disease that we’ve been seeing over the last year”.
He added in a briefing on Wednesday: “The critical point is whether the other immune responses we have continue to provide protection against severe disease, hospitalisation and death.
“The data we’re seeing emerging around the world really gives some at least initial hope that that will be the case.”
It comes after Dr Pollard and scientists involved in the Oxford vaccine trial released preliminary results from a study that appeared to show the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine cutting transmission rates by 67%.
The data from the study – which has not yet been peer-reviewed – has been described as the “holy grail” of the global vaccine rollout, while health secretary Matt Hancock said the news was “absolutely superb”.
The preliminary results found the efficacy from two standard doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine administered three months apart to be 82.4%.
Hancock told BBC Breakfast: “We know from earlier trials that the vaccines are safe and effective at protecting the individual.
“We now know that the Oxford vaccine also reduces transmission and that will help us all to get out of this pandemic, frankly, which is why it is such good news that we should welcome.”
He told Times Radio the numbers of people in hospital was coming down and deaths would drop.
Hancock said the Oxford data suggested that “we can have a high degree of confidence that that will come down quickly”.
The vaccine seems to dramatically cut transmission after just one dose, which could mean lockdown measures can be lifted sooner, a former chair at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine said.
Dr Gillies O’Bryan-Tear said: “If these vaccines reduce transmission to the extent reported, it will mean that the easing of social restrictions will be enabled sooner than if we have to wait for herd immunity – which may never in fact be achieved because of insufficient vaccine population coverage.”
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